Beloved television actor Sherman Hemsley, who starred as high-strung George Jefferson on CBS’ The Jeffersons, has died. He was found at his home in El Paso, Texas, yesterday and is said to have died of natural causes. He was 74 years old.
Sherman Alexander Hemsley was born in Philadelphia, studied drama in New York at the Negro Ensemble Company and the Urban Arts Company. He made his Broadway debut in the satirical musical comedy Purlie and later toured with the show.
Norman Lear lured him away from Broadway to play George Jefferson, a recurring character on the popular All in the Family sitcom. Lear once said, “The cocky energy of the guy was totally in sync with the offstage image we had created of George.” George and wife “Weezy” (Isabel Sanford) proved to be so popular that they were later given their own spin-off, The Jeffersons.
That TV series ran for 11 seasons on CBS but was cancelled without giving the cast and crew a chance to film a true series finale. In later years, Hemsley and Sanford re-teamed for commercials and cameos. They reprised their characters on two episodes of Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, once with Jeffersons co-star Marla Gibbs. Hemsley and Gibbs last reprised their characters in 2011 on an episode of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
Hemsley also starred on the comedy Amen as Deacon Ernest Frye, a man not unlike George Jefferson. That NBC sitcom ran for five seasons and 110 episodes.
He kept busy with roles on numerous other shows in later years. He provided the voice of Earls’ boss on Dinosaurs for four seasons and guested on shows like Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, 227, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Designing Women, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Sister, Sister.
Hemsley never married and didn’t have any children but leaves legions of grateful TV fans.
Interesting trivia: Hemsley never visited The Jefferson’s real NY apartment building until 1996.
What do you think? How will you remember Hemsley’s work — from The Jeffersons, Amen, or another appearance?